By Marc S. Sanders
To those who naysayed this standalone installment in the galaxy far, far away, all I say is you are trying too hard to be pleased. Shut up and have some fun, will ya?
Solo: A Star Wars Story presents a film that stands on its own, relying on mysterious legendary side stories only talked briefly about for the last fortysomething years like the Kessel Run, Sabaac card games, dice and the origin of how Chewbacca met everyone’s favorite space smuggler, Han Solo, plus the Millennium Falcon and the scoundrel Lando Calrissian.
My brother and even a few friends of mine (Joe Pauly) grew up loving John Wayne’s films. No one else epitomized a Hollywood western better than The Duke. He was their childhood hero. For me, it is the generation after that which introduced the space cowboy Han Solo played by Harrison Ford. He is not anywhere near a multi-dimensional character; pretty one note if you ask me (which ironically is opposite of what I demand in any kind of storytelling these days).
Captain Solo was the guy who would make it up as he goes; never planning ahead or considering others beyond his trusted furry partner and his beloved spaceship. He’d poorly talk his way out of trapped situations and when that didn’t work, he was a fast draw with his blaster.
The screenwriters for Solo, legendary Lawrence Kasdan with his son Jonathan, were all aware of Han’s placement in this space opera, while constructing this film. Only this time they intended on showing how that devil may care came about. It reminded me of a similar approach writer Paul Haggis took with the reinvention of James Bond in Casino Royale. A lone hero trusts very little beyond his own arrogance and self-assurance. The Kasdsans used that technique as the spine for this story and it works.
Director Ron Howard is the right guy to fill in following a notorious director incident beforehand. Howard keeps the film moving fast with casualties you might not expect to perish, revealing masks (an under looked theme of the original films), traitors, fast ships, fast cars, and their pursuits and chases. A favorite scene, saluting the Western, is a thrilling train robbery across a snowy mountain that seamlessly changes its angle and vector at times. It’s as awesome a scene as it promised in the trailers.
Howard is best at keeping the film grounded in actors rather than tired CGI cartoons. He definitely makes Han, Lando and the rest look convincing trying to steer a ship or carry a blaster and play cards.
The cast is great. Alden Ehrenreich is fine in the role; young, cocky, brash, handsome. I wasn’t looking for him to do a Harrison Ford impersonation. That would only look like a 12:45 am Saturday Night Live skit. The guy had to do his own thing, not someone else’s much like the Batman and Bond films have done before. Donald Glover is perfect as Lando, even adopting Billy Dee Williams own way of pronunciation (“Han” vs Ha-an”). Still, he makes the part his own. He’s fun to watch. Beyond some mild makeup scarring, Paul Bettany makes for a really uncomfortable crime lord, like a suave Miami Vice drug kingpin, and Woody Harrelson is just right in the inspirational pirate role; gruff and tough and educating. Emilia Clarke is finally directed properly in a film. (I still haven’t forgotten her awful Terminator: Genisys Sarah Conner portrayal.). She is dangerously sexy, but smarmy and cocky like Carrie Fisher was. She’s a great femme fatale of the 1940s beautifully incorporated into some very thick sci fi.
This was such a fun time at the movies. Go ahead. Accuse me of my bias, but as well shouldn’t I be expected to be a tough demanding critic of all new Star Wars material? I’d probably be wanting it to match the magic of the original trilogy. Well no. I don’t want it that way. I want new and fresh ideas, while still recognizing George Lucas’ used universe settings. Disney and Lucasfilm continue to move along, stretching their imagination in monies well spent while also following the rules of smart aleck characters, film western motifs, Eastern cultures and death-defying cliffhangers. Had the Star Wars franchise remained with Fox, audiences would not be getting the treats we’ve been blessed with for these last 10 years.
Solo really only has two minor misfires. The droid L3, Lando’s Co-pilot, does not live up to Anthony Daniels nor Alan Tudyk and their high brow robot attitudes. Why? Because it’s hard to understand what L3 is truly saying. The lines are garbled at times; drowned out by the robot dialect I guess, and maybe also by a mostly origninal score.
As well, there is one ending moment that’s eye opening, but puzzling with little demand for it. It was one surprise that did not seem to be well thought out and considering this is a stand alone film, it left me unsure of what Lucasfilm hoped to gain from it. The moment was too distracting for me. Yet it’s in there and it’s not the worst offense. Just very very unnecessary and perplexing.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is none other than great fun with something to think about. I was laughing out loud. The audience we were with was clapping and cheering. That’s why Star Wars films continue to thrive. Their audiences get caught up in the ride, especially when the films are relatable while not taking themselves too seriously.